19 March 2021 | 3 minutes.

It’s all about ecosystem restoration

Illustration: Cristina Sanuy

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Ambika Vishwanath
Founder and Director, Kubernein Initiative and Transboundary Water Security and Diplomacy Specialist
Asya Al Marhubi
Communications Officer, REVOLVE
Stuart Reigeluth
Founder of REVOLVE

Ambika Vishwanath, Founder and Director, Kubernein Initiative and Transboundary Water Security and Diplomacy Specialist

Asya Al Marhubi, Communications Officer, REVOLVE

Stuart Reigeluth, Founder of REVOLVE

This year marks the beginning of the new UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (2021-2030), which follows on footsteps and efforts of the UN Decade on Biodiversity (2011-2020). Having just begun the year, everyone is of course very excited about this theme and the prospects of contributing to the restoration of our ecosystems. Easier said than done. 

At REVOLVE, we are delving into finding out what ecosystems actually are, how they are defined and organized. We found that they are incredibly diverse, highly complex, and that the UN classifies them in 8 types including:

  • Farmlands 
  • Forests 
  • Freshwaters 
  • Grasslands, Shrublands and Savannahs 
  • Mountains 
  • Oceans and coasts 
  • Peatlands 
  • Urban areas 

The inclusion of urban areas on a shortlist of ecosystem restoration areas may seem strange, but urban areas have a considerable impact on their surrounding environments and are contributors to climate change and global deforestation through their consumption patterns. Cities are even part of novel urban ecosystems, with the IUCN Global Ecosystem Typology 2.0, including classifications for “urban and industrial areas” and even “water pipes and subterranean canals”.

As part of Cities4Forests, a global network of nearly 70 countries that seeks to raise awareness about the city-forest nexus, we are seeing growing interest in particular from India and China, and Asia at large, in joining our network, not entirely surprising given the colossal challenge of coupling economic growth with sustainable development in the context of climate change.

The sheer economies of scale in India and China alone multiply the ripple effect of tree-planting for example where both countries planted millions of trees in a matter of days. In 2017, 1.5 million volunteers planted 66 million trees in central India, breaking world records; and in China, Alipay’s Ant Forest App reaches over 500 million people that play to win green points to build virtual forests that are converted with enough points into real trees by the mega e-commerce company planted to combat desertification. 500 million people is a lot: that’s almost two Europes. 

But ecosystem restoration is not just about tree-planting – that’s probably the lowest-hanging fruit. Ecosystem restoration is the “process of assisting the recovery of an ecosystem that has been degraded, damaged or destroyed” (SER, 2004). But where to start?

To help answer this question, the IUCN has developed two tools, the Global Ecosystem Typology, a hierarchical classification system that provides a framework for comparing similar functional traits, drivers, threats, and indicators, and the Red List of Ecosystems Categories and Criteria (IUCN RLE), a global standard for assessing risk of ecosystem collapse. When used together they allow for comparison of risk of collapse of across various ecosystem types, and thus allow us to better direct restoration efforts.

In the lead-up to the UN International Day of Forests (21 March), REVOLVE is hosting the Cities4Forests Day on 18 March with an International Press Conference for journalists to learn more about the value of forests and an Expert Panel with the UN Environment Programme, the IUCN Red List of Ecosystems and the Ecosystem Restoration Camps (ERC).

This issue of REVOLVE reflects that close cooperation with ERC: the cover is the result of a contest amongst the camps for the image with the most likes and the VIEWS includes the other camps that submitted images of their wonderful work to restore nature. REVOLVE is grateful to their participation and proud to be partnering with these reputed organizations. 

We hope you enjoy this issue and look forward to your feedback!

Join the conversation on social and stay tuned for more livestreaming this spring as we go deeper into this new decade on ecosystem restoration. 

Ambika Vishwanath, Asya Al Marhubi, and Stuart Reigeluth.